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Ravenscraig Castle

Artillery Fortification (15th Century), Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Ravenscraig Castle

Classification Artillery Fortification (15th Century), Castle (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Ravensheugh Castle

Canmore ID 52902

Site Number NT29SE 11

NGR NT 29068 92489

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Fife
  • Parish Kirkcaldy And Dysart
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District Kirkcaldy
  • Former County Fife

Archaeology Notes

NT29SE 11 29068 92489

(NT 2907 9249) Castle (NR) (In Ruins)

OS 6" map (1938)

Ravenscraig Castle, founded in AD 1460 by James II, is an imposing ruin on a rocky promontory. It is remarkable both for the beauty of its ashlar masonry and also because it is perhaps the first British castle to be systematically designed for defence by firearms and against cannon fire.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887; RCAHMS 1933; W D Simpson 1938; V G Childe and W D Simpson 1961

The remains of this massive, strongly built castle are neglected and covered with vegetation; but the walls are in a fair state of preservation. The outbuildings in the south are in poor, fragmentary condition. The ditch against the north wall is partly filled in.

Visited by OS (JLD) 4 October 1954

Site recorded by Maritime Fife during the Coastal Assessment Survey for Historic Scotland, Kincardine to Fife Ness 1996

Architecture Notes

NT29SE 11 29068 92489


Scottish Country Life. August 1929, p.237.

Photograph: 'Ravenscraig Castle, Kirkcaldy which, along with the surrounding 85 acres of Dysart grounds has been presented to the town of Kirkcaldy for a public park...The park was opened on 29th June...Ravenscraig was built by James I in 1463'.

Information from Architecture Catalogue slip:

Guardianship Monument.


Aerial Photography (1966)

Oblique aerial photographs of Ravenscraig Castle and the surrounding area of Kirkcaldy, Fife, photographed by John Dewar in 1966.

Publication Account (1987)

Ravenscraig occupies a dramatic cliff-top site on the north shore of the Firth of Forth. From the A 92 Kirkcaldy-Dundee road the castle has the appearance of a somewhat unorthodox tower-house but when viewed from the land to the east or from the beach to the south the true scale and form of the building can be appreciated.

Built as a royal castle for Mary of Gueldres, Queen to James II, the castle was designed by the Royal Master Mason, Henry Merlzioun, assisted by Friar Andrew Lesouris as master carpenter. Work was begun in 1460 and continued despite the death of the king the same year. The work on the main defences, comprising two round-towers linked by a range containing the entrance gate, continued until the death of Mary of Gueldres in December 1463. Although the two towers are of similar plan and height, the nature of the landform gives prominence to the west tower. The massive wall thickness, regularly placed shot-holes and deep rock-cut ditch show Ravenscraig to be one of the earliest castles to attempt to provide for defence by and from artillery.

In 1470, James III granted the castle to William, Lord Sinclair, in exchange for the lands of the Earldom of Orkney. The building work at Ravenscraig was temporarily abandoned to be completed to a modified plan in the 16th century. The Sinclairs occupied the building on a regular basis until the 17th century, when it probably declined in favour, although the building remained in their possession until 1896.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

Publication Account (1995)

Outwith the boundaries of medieval Kirkcaldy, and with stronger links with Dysart, the castle still had a significant impact on Kirkcaldy. Built on a promontory, jutting eighty feet high above Kirkcaldy Bay, with a sheer face to the west and a more irregular shelving to the east, the castle stands in a seemingly impregnable position from the sea. During the fifteenth century the crown was showing increasing concern for littoral defence, both against piracy and English aggression. In 1460, therefore, James II commenced the building of the castle, in such a situation that it could command the upper reaches of the Forth and protect the important port of Dysart, and also, in the event, the small harbour of Kirkcaldy. Work continued after the death of the king that year, with the intention that the castle should be completed as a dower house for his widow, Mary of Gueldres. Whether this was achieved is doubtful, much further work being done for the Sinclair family in the sixteenth century. The main accommodation was provided in two towers flanking the base of the triangular promontory, supported by ancillary buildings, with a third tower at the end of the promontory.

The architecture of the standing remains of the castle reveals the response to the threat of bombardment from the sea: the walls of the towers are between 3.3 and 4.4 min thickness. Gun loops and a gun platform, protected by a curtain wall between the two towers, are an engineering reaction to the threat posed by the new artillery. Ravenscraig Castle may be the first castle in Scotland specifically designed for firearm defence.

Not only did Kirkcaldy benefit from a measure of protection and coastal defence afforded by the nearby castle, but as late medieval castles also served administrative and political purposes, Kirkcaldy was drawn into national events merely by being in the castle's locality. Ravenscraig Castle was the home of Mary of Gueldres until her death in 1463, and although it passed out of royal hands to the Sinclairs in 14 70, several royal visitors passed through Kirkcaldy.James V, for example, sailed from Kirkcaldy in 1536 to bring his French wife back to Scotland; a royal charter was issued from Ravenscraig in April 1540; andjames VI lodged at the castle in 1598. In due course the castle was deserted, but why or when is not clear. The last chapter in its history was an ignominious one; it probably functioned as quarters for troops during the Cromwellian occupation of Fife in 1651.

Information from ‘Historic Kirkcaldy: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1995).

Watching Brief (7 September 2011)

NT 2908 9252 and NT 2906 9245 A watching brief was carried out on 7 September 2011 during the excavation of two small trenches in advance of the installation of new signs at Ravenscraig Castle. The first trench was located outside the castle to the N, adjacent to the path approaching the site from the NE (NT 2908 9252), while the second was in the courtyard to the S of the castle (NT 2096 9245). The only noteworthy deposits were seen in the second trench, where the upper surface of a rubble deposit was revealed. The mortar noted on some of the stones indicated that this represented structural debris. The probable wall line to the W and the ruined range of buildings to the E are likely sources for this material. The material from this trench has demonstrated the potential for archaeological deposits to survive within the castle’s courtyard.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology, 2011

Information also reported in Oasis (kirkdale1-120886)

Watching Brief (13 March 2012 - 17 July 2012)

NT 2905 9248 A watching brief was carried out 13 March – 17 July 2012 at Ravenscraig Castle. A ledge running along the top of the cliff adjoining the W side of the W tower may be accessed from the ditch to its N by a series of crude rock-cut steps, and is further defined by a low wall on its W side and a more substantial one along its S end. The aim of the work was to investigate the archaeological deposits on this ledge, and assess the possibility of inserting a barrier along the cliff edge.

There was little in the way of significant archaeological features, with most of the area covered by very shallow deposits. However, footings were seen projecting up to 0.45m E of the main line of the W wall. Surface traces indicated that these broad footings continued to the N out of the excavated area, while no further part of this feature was visible to the S.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Gordon Ewart, Kirkdale Archaeology


OASIS ID: kirkdale1-310876


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